Touring the Bases with…Cory Schwartz
Matt Sisson recently sat down with Cory Schwartz, Director of Statistics for Major League Baseball and host of the show MLB Fantasy 411, to talk about his background in statistics, the 2008 Major League Baseball season and fantasy baseball.
Matt Sisson: Cory, can you give us a little insight on your educational background, history in statistics, and how you came to be the Director of Statistics of Major League Baseball.
Cory Schwartz: Like many other kids I wanted to be a baseball player when I grew up but I learned early on that I didn’t have the talent for it, so I focused on working in the game. I majored in Sports Management and minored in Communications at Guilford College, then worked for the New York Yankees in media relations in 1992-93. I worked for the National Basketball Association from 1993-2000, then joined MLB Advanced Media in January of 2001. I had a few other sports- and Internet-related jobs along the way, too.
MS: What advice can you give to the many stat heads out there looking to get into the statistical side of Major League Baseball?
CS: Unfortunately there is more demand for jobs in sports than there are jobs, so persistence, creativity and good timing are all keys. Be creative about differentiating yourself from other job seekers, be open-minded about the types of opportunities you pursue, and be persistent. After I interviewed with MLBAM, I called at least one person in the company every single day to express my interest in the job, until they finally broke down and offered it to me. I wanted to convince them that I wanted the job and would work harder at it than anyone else they could find.
MS: I first got in contact with you after listening to your show, MLB Fantasy 411 and seeing a message from you on the Society of American Baseball Research list server. How different do you think baseball would be without SABR and what can you say of SABRâ€™s statistical and historical contributions to the game?
CS: Baseball as we know it now would be vastly different without the work of many people within SABR. Bill James is obviously the most notable “outsider” to influence the way the game is viewed and managed both on the field and in the front office, but there are plenty of great ideas being formed every day. The best clubs are those that take ideas and information from wherever they can get it, and use whatever tools they can find to improve their clubs, and research being done by SABR and others is a critical part of that. Not all of the great ideas about the game originate from within the industry.
MS: What are some of the big stories you expect to see during the 2008 Major League Baseball season?
CS: Personally I try to not enter any season with any preconceived notions about what to expect. But as a New Yorker, obviously the addition of Johan Santana to the Mets will be a major storyline. I’m also very interested in following the continued development of the Tampa Bay Rays, who I think are one of the up-and-coming franchises in the sport, as well as certain other clubs that I work with more closely in my day-to-day job.
MS: Do you think the tremendous rookie pitching class of 2007 will have continued success in 2008 or fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump? Who in particular?
CS: We’ve probably been spoiled by the sheer number and talent of young pitchers coming into the game over the past few seasons, starting with Cole Hamels and Jered Weaver in 2006. I expect we’ll see some pitchers struggle, but given health, it’s hard to see anything but stardom for guys like Tim Lincecum, Yovanni Gallardo and Phil Hughes. I’d hate to predict who will stumble in 2008, because they are all fun to watch and I’d like to see them succeed.
MS: The National League has a number of emerging young hitters and pitchers. How long do you think it will take before the National League is considered to be on an even playing field with the American League?
CS: Baseball is cyclical in nature. Don’t forget that there was a period throughout the 70′s and 80′s when the NL was very much the dominant league in terms of All-Star and World Series wins. Even looking at this year’s fantasy drafts, the great majority of first- and second-round players are in the NL.
MS: In your opinion, what rookies will have the biggest impact on the teams they play for in 2008? Pitchers? Hitters?
CS: Evan Longoria, Jay Bruce, Colby Rasmus, Adam Jones, Felix Pie, Chase Headleyâ€¦ there is no shortage of great young hitters who will emerge again this season. Pitchers can be harder to predict â€“ after all, who thought Joba Chamberlain would make a bigger impact last year than Homer Bailey? â€“ but I’d keep my eyes open for Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers in the second half.
MS: You host a daily fantasy baseball show with Mike Siano and Casey Stern known as the MLB Fantasy 411. Can you tell us a little about the show?
CS: The Fantasy 411 is a daily exploration of fantasy strategy, player valuation, baseball discussion, pop culture, and anything else we want to talk about. The show is highly interactive, driven primarily by listener phone calls and e-mails, and we try to make it fun and entertaining for both new players and fantasy veterans alike. Fantasy baseball is the platform that allows us to discuss pretty much whatever topic will make the show entertaining.
MS: Up until this season the show was hosted by you and Mike. How is it having Casey in studio and when will his bad jokes end?
CS: Casey takes a lot of heat but he and I are good friends and I think he’ll be a great addition to the show. He really knows his stuff better than people think and does a great job of controlling the pace of the show, and his addition will also allow Mike Siano to show more of his skills as an analyst rather than being limited to the traditional “host” role.
MS: Iâ€™m a big fan of your pitching strategy in regards to fantasy baseball and have been using it for a number of years with great success. Can you explain a little of it to the reader and without tipping your hand too much, who are your pitch and ditch â€œacesâ€ of 2008?
CS: Our basic mixed league strategy is to de-emphasize starting pitching in the draft and work the free agent wire very heavily during the season to take advantages of new pitchers who emerge over the course of the season, as well as other pitchers who get hot for 3-4 starts at a time. There is so much freely available depth in mixed leagues that it doesn’t pay to make a big investment in a group of players who are, as a whole, much less predictable than hitters.
MS: It seems that the shallowest position in fantasy baseball this year is the catcher position. What other positions should fantasy players be mindful of? What type of rookie season do you think Geovany Soto will have at catcher?
CS: I’ve done plenty of homework on Soto, and while I personally do still have some skepticism about him, the consensus is that he’s a virtual lock to hit .275 or so with 15-18 homers, maybe even a few more. Hopefully, between Soto, J.R. Towles, Jared Saltalamacchia, Dioner Navarro and Kurt Suzuki, we’ll see some young catchers take a step forward and provide some badly needed depth at what is clearly the worst position in fantasy baseball.
MS: Lastly, there are a number of baseball publications available in print and online format. What are your must have yearly publications and what baseball websites do you visit daily?
CS: Forgive the shameless plug, but the MLB.com fantasy preview is a must because it is updated daily, whereas print publications go stale almost from the moment they hit the shelves. The MLB.com player dollar valuations and cheat sheets are very thorough as well. As far as publications, the Baseball Forecaster and Baseball Prospectus annuals are must-reads for any serious, self-respecting fantasy player. I try to travel light on draft day and not bring too much to the table with me, but I’ll read those publications extensively in my preparation, and also throughout the season.
I’d like to thank Cory for taking time out of his busy day to talk baseball. Be sure to check out his fantasy baseball show, MLB Fantasy 411 airing daily at BaseballChannel.TV and available for download off MLB website.